The misapplication of "both sides"
I was rewatching a few videos from a YouTube show called Middle Ground, which is about bringing three people who were on two sides of an issue together to see if they could find common ground. There have been episodes of people for and against gun control finding common ground or socialists and capitalists finding common ground. It is a well-intentioned show — some of the people invited to the show have some interesting commentary, and it is good to see people get along who normally would not.
But the show lost me with episodes like “Flat-Earthers vs Scientists: Can We Trust Science?” There are merits to discussing the theoretical and practical applications of government intervention, even discussing opinions that may misinterpret the theoretical constructs of policy. Denying commonly accepted facts and reality, however, is not an opposing viewpoint.
Conspiracy theorists are fairly easy to laugh at and deem as lunatics, but this problem exists in our political discourse as well. For example, regarding the Black Lives Matter protests from last year, there was fierce debate over what to do with the police. In order to have that valid discussion, we must first acknowledge that there is a policing problem that disproportionately impacts Black communities, for which there is a lot of evidence. Instead, much of the debate ended up becoming about whether the problem even exists or deflecting the blame of the problem on to the Black communities who have been brutally oppressed by the police. Essentially, the racists in the All Lives Matter crowd diluted the issue entirely, and they were allowed to do it because, well, they are the “other side" to which we should listen instead of the communities asking for help.
Over the years, there has been a general trend of accepting hateful ideologies, such as white supremacy, as legitimate and informed opposition. Instead of actively pushing back these hateful views, their views have been coddled instead, which has normalized them and made them into mainstream political movements. The Capitol attack last Wednesday was a culmination of this normalization, and the course correction on rejecting these hateful ideologies has come too late.
One common argument heard in favor of continuing to hear out these hateful voices is that we can publicly reject them in the “marketplace of ideas,” which is a deeply flawed statement. Having a debate with a white supremacist would incorrectly imply the white supremacist has something of value to say in the first place. There is a reason that communication, or the lack thereof, has been a driving factor for conflict throughout history. Communication would mean accepting or conceding some level of power between multiple parties. In many cases, conflicts start with a lack of communication because at least one party is not willing to cede some power to the other by having an open dialogue. The most famous historical example of this is the nuclear arms race in the Cold War. However, it is also true that conflicts can start by giving power and amplitude to groups that should not have that power in the first place. In this case, giving white supremacists public platforms in the name of free speech to espouse their hateful rhetoric only gives them more power. We will not change the hearts and minds of those out there who already believe that rhetoric in the first place just because we destroyed a white supremacist in public with facts and logic. All we have done is to help those people reinforce their biases and views.
There is a lot that can be said about how disillusionment with the elite ruling class gets weaponized to create the foundation for right-wing extremist movements, but there are two primary points related to this that are worth discussing.
First, it is important to note that every Republican politician is absolutely responsible for this. As the party jumps ship and distances itself from Trump and his base of white supremacists, remember that they are the ones who weaponized the frustration and disillusionment of white America and gave a platform to white supremacists both directly and indirectly. Even Mitt Romney, who has become a fiercely vocal critic since the Capitol attack, is in that list of people because, despite notable instances of defiance, he mostly fell on the party line. His self-awareness of his own role in this, while welcome, has also come too late.
The second point, which I find more frustrating, applies to performative white liberals. The right-wing often complains about “PC culture,” and while that is just racist dog-whistling, I can see why they get that impression. White liberals over the years have played identity politics without material change to the point where it inadvertently diluted the cause. For many white liberals, they are trying too hard to prove that they are not racists, or that they have acknowledged the problem of white supremacy and trip over themselves trying to prove that they care about people of color while defending minorities in ways that do not involve taking real action to alleviate their struggle. That is the logic behind all of these cities run by Democrats putting up Black Lives Matter murals and saying “woke” things about racism, but they still refuse to implement any real reforms or provide reparations to communities that have been hurt. At the end of the day, not only have people of color not been helped, but Democrats have given ammunition to white supremacists who get to say that Democrats are these coastal elites who do not understand the struggles of “middle America.”
Biases will always exist, but people need a reason to act on them. White supremacy was not something people immediately subscribed to because they are inherently racist or bad people. If you ignore peoples’ problems long enough, an opportunistic person will eventually come along who listens to them, gets them to act on those biases, and gives them a platform. Not only did we fail to address the issues that built the foundation for the hateful ideology, but we then acted as if it is legitimate. We are trying to make changes now, but it is far from over. As Biden has discussed plans to deal with white supremacy and domestic terrorism, he must remember that playing terrorism whack-a-mole will not solve the problem and can harm people of color even further. He has to remove the incentive for people to act on their biases by addressing the fundamental issues of disillusionment and inequality that drive it.